Disclaimer: High Heels & Flip-Flops is not a specifically political blog, but this is simply an issue I feel passionately about and a piece of my personal story I’d like to share with my community of readers. I welcome an open discussion about this topic, but ask that the conversation remain respectful and open-minded.
This Lent, I'm giving up something I now realize I probably should have a long time ago – the Catholic Church. As an American and a woman, the overblown contraception coverage debate recently instigated by the Church has angered and disgusted me, to say the least. Though I was raised as a Catholic and was once a strong participant in its traditions, I haven’t formally practiced for several years, for many personal reasons, including my ever-increasing lack of agreement with the Church’s stance on contraception, gay rights, women’s rights, its handling of sex abuse cases, and more. I have, however, up until this point remained somewhat amicable in my position toward the Church, attending mass on occasion with relatives and friends, getting married in the Church (which both my husband and I now regret), and remaining connected to the community in a cultural, “this is my Irish-Italian heritage” sort of way.
However, the Church’s recent outcry concerning an Obama administration policy – one stating that religious institutions, including hospitals and universities (not actual churches), should be required to provide contraception coverage to their employees – has pushed me over the edge once and for all. As some of my longtime readers and friends may know, I grew up without health insurance and didn’t have coverage until I got my first full-time job at 22. I know what it’s like to be in a doctor’s office or pharmacy and see my family dole out exorbitant amounts of money – often the only savings we had – in order to gain access to needed exams and medications, all because my parents’ employers did not provide coverage and because my parents made "too much" to qualify for federal or state aid, but not enough to afford independent coverage. To this day, I'm still dealing with certain health conditions, including gum disease, that are the result of my lack of preventive care as a child. I also began using contraceptives as a young teenager to help combat severe acne and the even more serious polycystic ovary syndrome, long before I ever needed them for “other” reasons. Too often, it seems that our politicians and religious leaders forget, or simply don’t care, that there are medical reasons for using contraceptives other than preventing pregnancy.
Plus, despite the fact that as many as 98 percent of Catholic women use birth control, and the added reality that not everyone who works for a Catholic institution – not to mention those members of their families who are also included under their coverage – is actually Catholic, the Church’s male leaders have recently turned this important women’s health issue into their own political football. Especially shameful and disgusting is the hyped up language being used to describe the situation by the Church’s leaders and others, including such terms as “intrinsically evil,” “war on religion” and “grave situation.” This is especially shocking and straight-up unacceptable coming from members of an institution whose leader – the pope – grew up in 1930s Germany. In one news interview, I even heard a bishop make a direct comparison between this situation – the administration’s so-called oppression of the Church – and the policies of Nazi Germany. To say that this outraged me is to put things far too mildly.
Have we forgotten that freedom of religion also means the freedom to not practice religion and to not have anyone else’s religious beliefs imposed upon you? In my eyes, the Church wants to do exactly this by restricting employee access to contraception. All I seem to hear in the debate taking place nationwide, however, are concerns about restricting the Church’s own religious freedoms, rather than concerns about restricting a citizen’s individual right to not have someone else’s religious beliefs forced upon her.
So, in light of these developments, the Catholic Church and I have from this day forward officially broken up. If a friend or relative has a Catholic wedding or other type of celebration, I will of course go, realizing that their views and decisions are their own. But as far as my personal life and identity are concerned, the Catholic Church will no longer play any role, including if and when I have children, who I refuse to raise in what I feel is an increasingly archaic, misogynistic and hypocritical tradition. While a part of me is definitely sad to say goodbye to what I've long regarded as a part of my heritage and personal history, I also realize that standing up for my beliefs means actually living them, every day. As such, I often wish that more women, Catholic and otherwise, would join me, rather than sitting silently by while others continue to make important choices concerning our personal lives and individual healthcare needs, which cannot be generalized and should never be politicized.